Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Girl in Between--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: The Girl in Between

The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll (Kathy Dawson/Penguin, $16.99 hardcover, 256p., ages 12-up, 9780735228603)

The only thing that the unnamed, "invisible" girl who narrates this lyrical yet chilling novel wants is a safe place for her and Ma to live, off the streets, where the Authorities can't get them. Because the last time they were sleeping in an alley, when Ma was still drinking and using drugs, the Authorities came to take the girl away.

Now, they live in an old mill they call the Castle. Even though the mill has broken windows and rotten floors, it's the best place they've had since the day Ma and Gran had a massive fight, Ma packed her backpack and they left Gran's. As long as they're together, they'll be fine. But the girl has to remember not to stress Ma out. She doesn't want her to go back to drinking and getting what she needs from Monkey Man, a frightening drug dealer Ma sometimes works for. There's another danger looming, too. The Authorities are planning to tear down the mill to make room for new buildings, just as they've done across the road.

Sarah Carroll's heartbreaking debut, The Girl in Between, relates a darkly compelling story, albeit one tinged with hope. The girl never doubts her mother's love for her, and spends her time weaving fantastic tales, exploring the mill and hoping that one day Ma will bring them home to Gran's. Even when Ma leaves, even when she's sad and her eyes sink "as deep as the canal that runs past the mill," she always comes back. Eventually. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: An unnamed girl and her alcoholic, drug-using mother are off the streets now, living in an old mill, but they still fear that the Authorities will take the girl away.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Midnight at the Electric--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: Midnight at the Electric

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (HarperTeen, $17.99 hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9780062393548)

The year is 2065. Sixteen-year-old orphan Adri Ortiz has sacrificed everything for a chance to be one of the lucky few living on Mars, "starting the world over... but with more brains." As a colonist-in-training, she moves to Kansas for her final three months on Earth, into the home of Lily, an elderly cousin she never knew existed. While unpacking at Lily's, Adri discovers a mysterious postcard and, on further investigation, finds a journal and bundle of letters written long ago. They become "the moment she first touched her own history."

Catherine's journal describes how she's been in love with Ellis, their farmhand, forever, but fears the dust storms of 1934 will kill her younger sister, Beezie, coating her lungs until she can't breathe anymore. She understands that it will take courage to save themselves, but Ellis and Mama refuse to leave the farm. When Catherine discovers a postcard and letters sent from England in 1919 by a girl named Lenore, she finds the will to act. Lenore is driven to escape the "suffocating gloom" of her brother Teddy's death in World War I, though she seems unable to come to terms with the grief. Lenore means to sail to America, join her best friend Beth, and make a new life.

In Midnight at the Electric, Jodi Lynn Anderson (My Diary from the Edge of the World; The Vanishing Season) weaves a shining tale of hope in the face of adversity. Her strong, independent women are linked through time by family ties, friendship and the gift of a tortoise named Galapagos. Even while facing "terrible uncertainties," they continue to seek a better life for themselves, their loved ones and, ultimately, the entire human race. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Sixteen-year-old Adri, preparing to colonize Mars in 2065, finds her life is surprisingly interconnected with two women from long ago when old letters come to light.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June Recommendations

CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND, by Rita Williams-Garcia, features young, harmonica-playing Clayton, who loves the blues as much as Cool Papa, his electric guitar-playing grandfather, does. When Cool Papa dies and Clayton’s mom gives away all of Cool Papa’s instruments, Clayton runs off to join the blues band that he and Cool Papa used to jam with. Clayton has adventures and learns a thing or two, but so does his mom. It’s an appealing story about loss and forgiveness. (MG)

In THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE, by Emma Donoghue, nine-year-old Sumac Lottery is a member of a very large, very boisterous, uber-diverse family consisting of two pairs of same-sex parents, seven homeschooled kids with unique interests, and plenty of pets, all living in an old brick mansion in Canada. Enter one grumpy, conservative grandpa who needs to stay with them, after accidentally setting his own house on fire. Sumac finds her familiar world shaken to its core, in this wonderfully zany, clever, heartfelt story. (MG)

Right now I’m finishing up the third book in S. E. Grove’s Mapmaker’s Trilogy, which began with THE GLASS SENTENCE, was followed by THE GOLDEN SPECIFIC, and concludes with THE CRIMSON SKEW. In the Great Disruption of 1799, continents were flung into different time periods and stranded there. Thirteen-year-old Sophia, her cartographer uncle Shadrack, and refugee Theo embark on a series of globe-and-time-trotting adventures to save each other, find Sophia’s parents, and put an end to a terrible war that threatens the stability of New Occident and other civilizations, past, present, and future. This incredible trilogy features rich, layered plots and intricate world building that should satisfy anyone who loves Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. (10-14)

A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s best-selling debut, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. It’s likewise full of twists and turns, action, adventure, and just enough romance to keep things interesting. In this volume, Laia and Elias are fleeing the city of Serra, trailed by elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, as they make for the notorious Kauf prison to free Laia’s brother Darin. I was relieved to find this installment was less crazy-violent than the first one, but it’s certainly just as thrilling. (YA)

And, finally, I’m on a Jon Agee kick right now. His MY RHINOCEROS is another charming, tongue-in-cheek farce from a picture book master. Having a rhinoceros for a pet is not like having a dog at all. No, instead of chasing balls, or sticks, or frisbees, a rhinoceros will pop balloons and poke holes in kites. It’s more useful than it sounds! Pair this with SPARKY! by Jenny Offil and Chris Appelhans, for some offbeat, new-pet fun. (PB)


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June's Book of the Month--Freedom in Congo Square

June’s Book of the Month is the Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, Zolotow Award-winning, New York Times Best Illustrated book, FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE.

This moving collaboration from poet Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator R. Gregory Christie uses evocative rhyming couplets and vibrant art to describe a tradition begun by slaves in 1800s New Orleans which continues to this very day.

“Mondays there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop.” Art and text portray slaves endlessly engaged in a wide variety of plantation tasks. “Week in, week out, from sun to sun,” slaves hoed, planted, bricked and baked according to the whims of their masters. Weatherford shows how life was defined by this relentless list of chores that “was no ways fair.” Readers will glimpse the toil, fear, and despair slaves experienced as they worked their way through the week, each day bringing them one step closer to Sunday and the promise of an afternoon “half free” in Congo Square.

According to a forward by Freddi Williams Evans and an author’s note by Weatherford, Sundays in Louisiana were holy days, when even slaves had time away from work. At first they were allowed to gather at various locations within New Orleans, but later were allotted one specific field just outside the city limits. In time, this became known as Congo Square. Enslaved Africans as well as their free counterparts met here to sing, dance and play traditional African music. While African language and even musical instruments were banned elsewhere in the United States, in Congo Square “African rhythms, culture, and customs had free expression and were preserved.” News was shared, goods bought and sold, and African religious beliefs practiced. Every Sunday afternoon, slaves came together in Congo Square for “a taste of freedom.”

Working in tandem with Weatherford’s words, Christie’s strong lines serve to keep his figures caged. His art reinforces how, from Monday through Saturday, these workers toiled with backs bent, confined to their jobs. But, come Sunday, his stiff, sharply-angled slaves metamorphose into long-limbed dancers. They whirl through Congo Square, bursting with color and life. Masks, drums, and other African motifs decorate the pages now, and even the type comes alive and swirls across the page.

Readers of all ages will find much to admire as they enjoy this gorgeous collaboration which celebrates what may well be the origins of jazz music in America.